The news many had dreaded was announced this week: “Freedom Day” – when all Covid restrictions in England were to be lifted – has been delayed by four weeks, writes Calum Davies.
So why were so many in Wales, including myself, exasperated?
The division of powers between the central and devolved governments has been much written about over the last year as public health measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus has brought them to national attention. Therefore, the England-only announcement should not impact Wales, at least, directly.
However, there will be consequences here. Firstly, it lets Welsh Labour ministers get high-and-mighty about how cautious they are compared to those reckless English folks. Please, Boris – Vaughan Gething, who said having “Freedom Day” pencilled-in in the first place was not sensible, is smarmy enough as it is so don’t go giving him free ammo to hit you with.
Secondly, it eases the pressure on Drakeford to relieve the measures still in place in Wales. The PM has often been accused of being cavalier in getting hopes up about the lifting of restrictions, but at least the English have been given some indication of when they will experience the restoration of their basic liberties. Meanwhile, St Mark of Pontcanna dare not let the Welsh know when they might be authorised by his Holiness to sing the national anthem in the pub when Wales play this summer.
Due to the success of the UK Government’s vaccination procurement and, to be fair, the Welsh Government’s rollout programme (I genuinely would like to know why the British nations are performing differently on this) Wales has the highest vaccination rates in the world. The most vulnerable have all been vaccinated and all adults have apparently been offered it now in Wales. This means that despite the Delta variant being more infectious, it does not mean Covid has turned even more deadly. Indeed, as Chair of the Covid Recovery Group Mark Harper MP highlighted on Politics Live, the only new piece data announced at the PM’s press conference was that vaccinations are just as effective against this variant. The Prime Minister is right to say Covid is something we will have to live with, but this only makes his decision more baffling for a self-professed freedom-lover.
Back to my point: making it easier for Drakeford to avoid giving us our own “Freedom Day” – a term I use for ease rather than sincerity as we shouldn’t be grateful for having our rights returned – will mean several groups continuing to suffer in their deference to the state. From business struggling as they are forced to operate below capacity to workers still living off furlough while losing their motivation for work to students destined to spend several more months studying in misery, delays to our freedoms in Wales, in the current context, is unjustifiable.
And ministers who make these laws, no matter what party, need to smell the coffee and realise people have been ignoring rules for months. Coronavirus restrictions were only tolerable for so long as they went against the lifestyles of those in Western, capitalist, democratic societies, as well as basic human instinct. This is why Drakeford’s claim that social distancing will be with us for the rest of the year is both unacceptable and delusional. I would venture to say it also demonstrates his own party’s MSs are too weak to resist what are clearly overzealous restrictions.
So two things must now happen: there is no more delay announced in Downing Street and the Welsh Government, as a minimum, must give those it governs a date – like those in England were given – for when all restrictions will go. It must also do this in recognition of the context we are in. I recommend this for Drakeford’s own good too, for how popular will St Mark be when we are still denied our full freedoms while our British brethren are walking around with more rights than us?
Calum Davies is Deputy Chairman of Cardiff Central Conservatives and the 2021 Welsh Conservative Senedd candidate for Cardiff Central.